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RUNNING TIME: 160 Minutes
Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Drafted? No, too racially reductive and completely unfair. It’s just a mediocre war movie that aims for profundity and lands somewhere over mediocrity gulch.
A long forgotten but passionate group, Nazis with rotator cuff injuries have been relegated to a mere footnote in the history books.
Derek Luke, Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso, Omar Benson Miller, Pierfrancesco Favino and Valentina Cervi with a little extra work from John Leguizamo, John Tuturro and Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Seen as something of a counterpoint to the Anglo-centric versions of the WWII story that came before it, Miracle follows a handful of men from the all-black 92nd Infantry Division who find themselves ensconced behind enemy lines with no way to get back to their army without encountering a whole mess of German soldiers. So they choose to hunker down in a small Tuscan village where they struggle with the idea of fighting against fascism for a country that insists on continuing its backward attitudes towards people different only in skin color from the rest of the army. It’s there they take an injured and apparently delusional young boy who helps to show the soldiers that they too can have their very own white variation on the magical negro.
“What the fuck do you mean they’re not doing a Major League IV? I already bought this replica Zack Morris telephone! You know how much this shit costs?”
One has to learn to temper one’s expectations when it comes to Spike Lee. He followed up the no-bones-about-it masterpiece that is 25th Hour with She Hate Me, so there shouldn’t be any surprises if there’s a misstep in his oeuvre. Even though his last two efforts (Inside Man and When the Levees Broke) were fantastic and despite the fact that the material is built right for his wheelhouse and is a subject matter clamoring for a major motion picture to be made about it still isn’t reason enough to feel comfortable that his next film is a sure thing. It’s a good thing too, because Miracle at St. Anna is an epic mess, a misfire that can’t be described as rare, but disappointing nonetheless. The movie starts out promisingly enough with its lurid murder mystery framing device (replete with bad tough-guy acting and bizarre shot selection), but it quickly segues from that into extremely pious territory leaving the mystery behind for nearly the rest of the running time. And that’s just the start of the movie’s problems.
“And that concludes tonight’s episode of Ann Coulter radio…”
The WWII portion starts off promisingly enough with an off-kilter sequence involving our 92nd infantry attempting to break through enemy lines while Axis Sally is spewing her off-putting propaganda which is all the more disorientating for the kernel of truth contained within it. The whole sequence starts off uneasy and just gets queasier as it continues, and it left me hoping that Lee was about to make a war movie the likes of which I hadn’t seen before. It settles down after that and meanders slowly to its conclusion from there, with moments of inspiration coming few and far between. It makes sense for the soldiers to be physically separated from the army considering the emotional detachment involved for a group of men who aren’t given the common dignities afforded the other (see: white) soldiers, but the idea never feels any further developed than that. So we’re stuck with these stock characters as they hunker down in an Italian village for the large part of the film’s running time where they and the film just seem to sit and spin their wheels. Attempts to bring both Italian and German perspectives into the film to show how similar the soldiers all are in their desire to end this and just get home to their families is appreciated, but could’ve been handled more adroitly with some choice dialogue in a couple of sequences. Instead it just pads out what is already an enormously overstuffed picture. What it thinks is epic is bloated.
“Now I know you need to make money Gerald. But you and me both know that boysenberry pie is one of the worst you’ve ever made. And I can’t let you disgrace yourself like that, so just step out of the way. Close your eyes if it’ll make you feel better.”
The characters are extremely static throughout the film, with little to nothing in the way of character development. And while there’s something to be said for the fact that war deprives a lot of young men (and women) the ability to develop further as human beings, that notion isn’t really played with here at all. And it doesn’t make for a compelling narrative, for that matter. Not to mention that the characters feel more like a screenwriter’s construct that actual living breathing human beings as you watch them on screen. The biggest offender here is Omar Benson Miller*, whose character would’ve felt at home in a movie that completely eschewed realism in favor of something more emotionally heightened but instead is left here to stretch believability beyond its breaking point. While a portion of the responsibility might fall on the actors, it would seem that the screenplay gives them very little to work with, which is a shame. This story deserves better than that, and hopefully will someday get it. Instead, we end up in the realm of miracles and faith and belief and all other sorts of things that always feel shoehorned into a war picture, and the film really wallows in these notions throughout. Maybe for believers this added to the stakes, but it seemed like nothing more than an excuse for a deus ex machina and some unearned heart-string tugging at the film’s conclusion (which just flat out doesn’t work).
I’m going to be upfront with you. I’ve been trying to get some sort of Big Pimpin’ 25th anniversary music video with a special guest appearance by Jeffrey Wright joke to work out, but it just isn’t happening. Now you know the truth.
But I can’t bring myself to hate the film, either. Terrence Blanchard’s score is one of the film’s strongest points. Even when the movie itself is far from absorbing, Blanchard’s music cues keep the film fresh even when it’s treading over well-worn war film territory and keeps you interested even when the film seems diametrically opposed to that notion. It’s the type of work that deserved recognition come Oscar time, but given how quickly and wholly this film fell off the map it’s no surprise he didn’t. And even though the film doesn’t work, Lee’s direction is solid enough. He hews closely to previous methods of framing and shooting a war picture, but some of his shot composition throughout is praiseworthy (especially an outburst of violence from one of the film’s most passive characters late in the game) even if the project viewed as a whole can’t be seen as anything other than a mess. All things considered, I’d much rather watch a Spike Lee failure than a Tim Story modest success, and there’s something to be said for that. Even if that something is simply ‘for Spike Lee completists only’.
“And if you look carefully on the back of the skull, you’ll note the first instance of what was coined the ‘Romullet’.”
The cover art is generic, but there’s a certain element of referring to previous cover art to war films (Hamburger Hill’s pose with a little dash of Flags of our Fathers color palette) that helps it rise above ever so slightly. The film looks and sounds great, but unfortunately for those without Blu-Ray capability the standard disc is bare motherfucking bones. Not even a trailer to be had. Unfortunate, too, as I would like to have heard some words from some of the artists involved in order to get an idea of what they were aiming for versus the end product.